A year ago, many of us figured that Drew Hutchison was all set up for a breakout season. He had come back from Tommy John surgery, in 2014 and had finished the season pitching great. In August, of that year, he held batters to a .190/.259/.355 line. September didn't go quite as well, but we wrote that off to a pitcher who, in a recovery year, tired out at the end of the season. We thought he figured it out.
The Blue Jays thought the same. They had Hutchison start on opening day.And he was very good, 6 innings of 3 hit ball,getting the win.
As the season, we started to notice a rather strange split. At home he was great. 11-2. 2.91 ERA. Batters hit just .238/.288/.357. If he had done the same on the road, he would have had picked up Cy Young votes. Unfortunately, he was quite awful on road. 2-3. 9.83 ERA. Batters hit .380/.437/.636. It is hard to believe that he could have an ERA more than 3 times higher on the road at home.
And equally hard to figure out why that happened. In 2014 he had fairly even home/road splits, so it doesn't seem like it should have been something to do with the mound, or surroundings, or the fans, or sleeping at home, or any other easily understandable explanation.
My opinion....Drew had a couple of bad starts on the road early in the season. Just random chance, but it messed up his home road splits. Then people started noticing. And soon reporters started asking him about it. Pointing it out to him. Over and over. Put yourself in his shoes. You are told about it. Told how great you are at home and how terrible you are anywhere else. You can't go a day without being reminded about it.
Soon, you start to believe it. When you walk on the Rogers Centre mound, you feel unbeatable. You know that this is your place. Someone gets a hit, you don't care, you know you'll get the next guy. Heck, even if they do score a run off you, you know you will shut them down after that. Confidence is a great thing, especially if you have the talent to back it up.
Unfortunately, the flip side of it is that on the road, you get to believing you can't win. You give up a hit, you think 'oh man, here it starts'. It soon starts steamrolling. You have a bad inning, it just reinforces your belief. I mean, as much as you can rationally tell yourself that there is nothing to this, emotionally, well, it would have to get to you.
Anyway, whatever the reason for the incredibly strange home/road split, the guy who was out opening day starter, the guy that was so good at home, was so bad on the road that he got himself removed from the rotation, in September.
Getting bumped from the rotation was also a pretty amazing thing. In August, he had 2.45 ERA in 4 starts. 4-0, 2.45 ERA, in 4 starts and 25.2 innings. That was his best month of the season. We thought all was good. Then, two bad starts, and he's out of the rotation. Playoffs come, and he doesn't even get a spot on the roster. That's a big drop from opening day starter.
I'll admit I was surprised that they didn't tap Hutchison to take Cecil's spot on the playoff roster, after Cecil's injury. I didn't understand the point of picking Ryan Tepera on the strength of reverse left/right splits over 33 innings. Sometimes I don't think the Jays have ever heard the phrase small sample size. I would have rather have had Hutch because he could pitch multiple innings. It's likely a small thing, but I wouldn't have wanted Tepera or Hutchison in a playoff game that we could possibly win, so if he either was coming into a game, I'd expect it to be a lost cause. In that case, I'd rather have the one that could pitch longer, stay out there longer and eat more innings. To me that would be Hutchison.
But, I digress, let's talk about the future.
I'll admit, I'd like Drew to have a terrific spring and to win the 5th starter spot (of course, I'd like all the candidates for the 5th starter spot to have a great spring).
The reasoning I have for wanting Hutchison to win the 5th starter spot is because he has pitched a full season's worth of innings before. He threw 184 innings, in 2014 and 150 innings in 2015, so he wouldn't have to be shut down at any point. If Aaron Sanchez wins the 5th starter job, he only pitched 92 innings, last year, I'd think the Jays would want to limit him this year. Jesse Chavez? Well, I guess he wouldn't have to be limited, but he has, the past couple of years, seemed to tire after 100 innings or so. Gavin Floyd? He hasn't pitched over 100 innings since 2012, but since he's 33 now, we wouldn't be trying to save his arm for the future anyway.
My guess is that, unless Hutchison has an amazing spring, he'll start the season in Buffalo. For one, he has options, so he would be easy to send him down. Beyond that, I think he will have to prove himself to the Jays, prove that he can be consistent. I think that will take more than a handful of spring innings.
Teams need more than 5 starters in a season. Even if Hutchison doesn't win a job out of camp, I would think that we will see him at some point this season (unless, of course, he's as terrible in Buffalo as he was on the road last year).
Hutchison is still only 25 (it seems like he should be older), he has time to get his career back on track, but the sooner he gets to it the better. I'd love to see him have a great season and get going on the career. There really doesn't seem like any reason hit should be good. He throws had, can do the mid-90s. Add a good slider and a change and he should be good. Maybe this will be the year it all comes together.